Everyone wants to make money. And for those who are constantly creating new content, there may come a time when you seriously looking at monetizing it. At the same time, the when, where and why baffles you and you are not sure what next steps should be.
In episode 142, I asked Kyle Maurer from Sandhills Development to join me and share what he has discovered when it comes to dropping your content behind a paywall. He is part of the team behind the plugin Restrict Content Pro, and has spent a lot of his time on this, which he considers one of his favorite subjects.
Kyle shared his thoughts on:
- What content creators should be considering when it comes to content paywalls and the long-term.
- The balance you should strive for between offering free and paid content.
- Choosing the best medium to meet your own goals.
- The pros and cons of moving out of your comfort zone to branch out into other models and mediums.
- What the plugin Restrict Content Pro brings to WordPress users when it comes to monetizing your content.
Bob: Hey, everyone. Welcome to Episode 143. BobWP here, and today I have a very special guest, a good friend of mine and an eCommerce kind of guy.
Kyle Maurer join us today. He’s with Sandhills Development. They do a bunch of awesome eCommerce plugins. How are you doing today, Kyle?
Kyle: I’m great, Bob. I’m so excited to be on your awesome show. Thanks for having me.
Bob: You bet. It’s never been called an awesome show before. I’m going to make sure and not take that particular word out, because this is a first. I’ve got to take what I can get.
What we’re going to be talking about today is putting your content behind a paywall. We will be touching on your plugin, Restrict Content Pro, that you are involved with at Sandhills Development, probably throughout. We’ll focus a little bit more on that towards the end.
But I wanted to start with someone who might say, “Hey, I’m a content creator. I want to start monetizing my content.” What should they initially think about? Because there’s going to be long-term benefits or consequences. What is possible with content paywalls? Can you give us a general overview to get us sliding into this?
Kyle: Yeah, there’s a lot to consider, of course. I’m sure anybody in this position is, if they’ve started to look into it, probably feeling overwhelmed with the amount of options and routes they could take.
I think the tip that I would provide, or the first step that I would recommend to anybody I care about in this position, would be to monetize as soon as possible, and do that starting small.
If we’re assuming that this someone has free content already, and they’re trying to take the step into monetization, I think I would definitely recommend that you do that as quickly as possible. Don’t wait. Don’t try to build something more elaborate with which to monetize.
Instead, try to find some small value-added to introduce as early as possible, and possibly even just for a very nominal cost, as a way of beginning the walk down that path towards monetizing your project. We could go over examples, as well, if that’s …
Bob: Yeah, oh, I’d love to hear some.
Kyle: Say you’re a blogger, and you write a lot of articles. It wouldn’t be, then, extremely complicated for you to begin to add a new value-add to present to your audience. This could be creating an ebook or something from your content, and that could be useful to some of your users. It could be creating video versions of your posts, or audio recordings of them. Or get posts from guests who are industry experts, or record an interview with them. These are examples of the kinds of extra things.
Maybe, if you’re a vlogger doing video, you could have transcriptions, or behind-the-scenes video, or access to your production assets. Maybe a Getting Started Guide for people trying to do what it is you do. Writing scripts and story boarding, what equipment they need to do what you do and editing tips, and all that stuff.
Or maybe you’re a podcaster and you want to just add a little bit of value with your transcriptions or videos, as well, or uncut recordings. These kinds of things are pretty simple to add. You could just throw one additional added-value piece to your offering, mark it up just a little bit, and you’re on the road.
One of my favorites, the strategy that I generally recommend for first-time monetizers, is to look closely at your byproducts. Maybe we’ve all heard like the famous example of the lumber industry discovering how profitable monetizing their byproduct, the wood chips, can be. It’s one of those classic examples used often. But we all have byproducts. Any podcaster who’s been doing it seriously may have things like their scripts and their bumpers and original music and their sponsor pitch that they go to, or their show outline. Or maybe an archive of specific segments of their show, for those of you who have different parts of a show. On my podcast, we have a few different segments, some of which are very popular.
Think of maybe the Car Talk Puzzler on that famous radio show. Maybe there’s an archive of just those segments, and these are things that you already have as the owner of the channel, that you could potentially just take and throw behind a paywall for access to them packaged up neatly.
Or maybe if you’re producing video as well, you could have scripts for those, or templates that you use in your editing program, or uncut footage that people might appreciate. Or your outtakes. You have this stuff already. Your audience may appreciate it, and it may be very simple to just package it, put a small price tag on it, and you’re on the road.
This could allow you to very easily and gradually expand, and simply continue a pattern of adding value and increasing the price, and adding value and increasing the price. Maybe even adding tiers at some point. So you begin to experience diminishing returns, at which point you turn your energy towards other things, like increasing the volume of people coming to your funnel, or optimizing your offering for conversions.
Bob: I love the fact that you pointed out, doing it early. My whole model has changed and taken so many twists and turns, that I can’t even make sense of half the stuff I’ve done over the years.
But I think back when I was doing a lot of content, and I was doing other things like training and things like that. By the time I got to the point where I tried to put together a video online membership site of basic WordPress stuff, which was a lot of stuff I’d been giving away free for years and years, it was a tough sell, and it was very hard. I worked it some different ways, and I got it going to some extent. But then I realized I’ve tapped it here, and this is not the direction or the actual content I should be trying to do this with. So I took a lot of the content I created new and put it back on my site as free content, and took advantage of it that way. Yeah, it’s a very fine line that you have to walk there.
I’m going to actually skip into this question that I have. I’m not going right into the next one, just because it really is around this same thing we’re talking about, as far as offering both free content and paid content. Let’s say you’re starting, like you said, and you’re doing it the Kyle way. I should call it the right way, too. You’re starting to monetize that stuff. From here on out, how do you balance that free and paid content?
Kyle: Hmmmm. That can be tricky for a lot of people and a lot of different businesses. Sometimes it isn’t easy to find a good example of someone doing what you’re doing that you could model after.
I think the best advice that can be given is to try your best to make the criteria for upgrading, or when upgrading becomes appropriate, as clear as possible. Whenever there’s free and paid content, you are using your free content as marketing to get people who might opt in to your premium offering. That moment, when upgrading to premium is appropriate, needs to be obvious to the user. It can’t be ambiguous. And many companies do this really well. Not all… but when do you need to start paying for Dropbox? When you run out of free space. It’s really clear, and super obvious.
When do you start paying for GitHub? When you start managing an actual team, as opposed to being an individual.
When do you need to start paying for PayPal Pro? When you need something else to check out, like very specific features. Some of these are quite clear. And not just with software stuff.
When do you start paying for your child’s airline ticket? When they’re two years old. A lot of these things are super clear, and that is very helpful to all parties involved. I think you’re likely better off when you can make that as clear as possible.
I see plenty of premium offerings which list a variety of offerings … or a variety of benefits, I should say. But in the end, it is just a judgment call for the user. And they’re required to do some silly mental math, like adding up every benefit, weighing it against the cost, determining whether it’s worthwhile to them.
But you really don’t want to make your users think about it. You don’t want them to have to do this analysis, and calculate in their head whether the value is greater than the cost. This is one thing that I think, we’ve actually done pretty well with Restrict Content Pro. There is a free plugin called Restrict Content on the WordPress.org plugin directory, which allows you to restrict access to content on your site. The turning point, though, is from free to paid, when you want to start charging for access to the content.
When you start selling this stuff, that’s when you need Restrict Content Pro. It’s very clear when that turning point is. Some people don’t need to. And those that do, identify it and upgrade. And it’s simple. There’s not a lot of thinking in it.
I recommend making it so simple that you can describe it in one clear sentence. Say you’re selling resources for photographers. Maybe a bad example would be to say, “You start paying for my premium offering when you’re just really into photography, and you need fancier features and more detailed info.” That’s not very clear at all. Nobody can picture something concrete from that description.
A better approach would be to say, “You start paying for my premium offering when you go from doing photography as a hobby, to doing it as a business.” That’s a bit more of a clear distinction. And that’s what we should be aiming for when we have free and paid simultaneously.
Bob: That’s a good point. I love that, because it’s really a simple concept, but I think a lot of people do. They keep it too general. It’s like, “Here’s my stuff. You need it at some point.” “Oh, really? What point is that?”
Kyle: Right. Or, “I’ve got 50 features in my offering, and I’m going to put 25 of them in free, and 25 more into Pro.” And then you have the situation where the user has to just look at this list of the features, and think about every individual feature, and whether they care about it or not. And at the end of this long list, they’ve got just crazy calculations in their head to try and make, when they see the price. That’s hard, and that doesn’t work for them, it doesn’t work for your conversion rates, either.
Bob: Yeah. Plugin developers, take heed on that one.
Now, there are so many ways you can sell content, and so many mediums of content. Again, this is a very open-ended question. Where do you find that sweet spot for your own needs? I mean, you’re looking at how I can sell it. And then first of all, what kind of content am I creating? You already talked about all the mediums, and we’ll be touching on that a bit more too. But those two combined, sometimes I think people are again, maybe overwhelmed. I don’t know if you have some words of wisdom to help them focus down a little bit there.
Kyle: There are a number of things you can do. I’ll run through just a handful. One, you can survey your audience, which is maybe my least favorite. I’d much rather look at actual user behavior than what users say their behavior will be. I’ve found it to just be less reliable and accurate. But it still has a place, and can be valuable at times. So, number one, you can survey your audience if you have one.
Number two, you can review your past engagement metrics. This is only possible if you have worked in multiple formats. If not, it doesn’t apply so much. But if you do have that history, you can very simply compare the metrics for each, which are converting better for you. Which are getting more organic views. Which are resulting in more social shares. This also, though, it may be a bit obvious, so I don’t want to dwell on it much further.
Three, evaluate the competition and see how crowded existing channels are already. This is something I like to do. There are three main content mediums: text, audio, and video. And for anyone interested in your topic, what are they finding right now, when they search Google, YouTube, and iTunes, et cetera. This is the kind of thing I’ll build spreadsheets on, and have many times.
You might search and find that there are dozens of blogs on this topic you care about. And a lot of YouTube channels, but no active podcasts, for example. That could jump out to you as an opportunity. You could focus on audio, and just own that medium. Because it’s not crowded like the rest are. That’s a useful starting point. Or, you could research industry trends. It’s getting a little more macro, and does require a lot of searching and data analysis. It can be very time consuming, and sometimes not even very fruitful. But, I think it is productive. It’s possible to get a sense of the changes in popularity for certain mediums, as well as the topics themselves.
You could use tools like Google Trends; Google AdWords also has very powerful reporting tools. Even if you’re not using Google Ads for marketing, you can use the platform to gain insight on what people are searching for, and what competitors are advertising on. That could be very informative. Other sites like Statista are great for just gaining insights on popularity of topics and just industry trends in general.
Lastly … this might be my favorite … spend some time reflecting on your own skills and interests. Try and make content, if you can, of every type you’re considering and really give it a solid effort. Afterwards, ask yourself which one stands out as the easiest for you to do. By easy, I mean, for which one, while doing it, does the time just fly by without you noticing? For which are you most quickly able to break through your writer’s block and start creating? Which one are you most proud of in the end? Which one would you look forward to repeating tomorrow?
If you can figure out something that doesn’t feel like a chore to you, you can overcome anything else. You could succeed even with a janky web site, and an awkward monetization strategy. And against hot competition and in a crowded market, and with mediocre equipment. If you sincerely love what you do.
Bob: Perfect. Because I was just thinking, especially I think, well now it’s with podcasts, which is audio. Then of course it seems like it’s been video and off and on for years, how many people, “Oh, you should be doing video.” People get stressed and confronted on that.
Or, podcasting; look at all this money to be made, or look at the advertisers out there. So they start thinking that, and they think, last thing, “Oh, my voice sucks.” They’re self conscious about how their voice sounds. Or they watch themselves on videos and think, “Wow, I’m really boring,” or, “I just look like an idiot.”
There’s all those things and those pressure points people get. And I love that you mentioned finding that comfort zone, which I want to talk about here in a minute, as far as moving on. But we’re put in this spot where everybody says, “Video is the thing.” Video has been The Thing for many years, and it continues to be The Thing. And I don’t know how it can continue to grow. But it seems to be massive growth every year, according to the experts.
Bob: But you still want to almost jump on … I don’t want to say jump on the video bandwagon. But, in a sense, you do because you think that’s where everybody’s attention is.
So you try to force yourself to go into it, and you’re miserable, and you’re waking up at, oh, four in the morning, thinking, “Oh, today’s a video day.” You can’t get back to sleep, and you’re all nervous about it. So there’s that. And I’ve talked to the same people over the years with content, with blogging. Everybody thinks they should blog. That used to be The Thing. Everybody should have a blog. And there’s a lot of people that writing content, producing content, writing it out, is a chore and an incredible task for them.
Kyle: Right. Right.
Bob: There is that constant struggle there. That takes me into the next thing I want to reflect on, and that’s the … You found that nice sweet spot. But then again, you’re hearing or you’re thinking, “I need to branch out. I need to branch out into different content.” Or, “I need to branch out into a different medium,” which is kind of the same thing.
What are the dangers? I think we’ve already talked about it a bit, but what are the dangers? Or are there any ways to help people make that transition to another model of some sort, because they feel like they’ve maybe taken what they’ve done to the limit? I know that’s a convoluted question, but it’s also just that comfort zone you’re in, and how do you get yourself out of that? Or are there too many dangers like we’ve talked about?
Kyle: Hm. Yeah, there’s definitely a lot there. You make me think about Shiny Object Syndrome, for one. Which is a danger that we all face, and there are concerns with that.
If you are hearing a little bit about other things being hot right now. A high demand for a medium that you’re not working on. Or a channel that you’re not active in. That can be valid. And it’s important for us to keep in tune with what’s going on. But there are concerns to be aware of, for chasing those kinds of shiny objects, especially if you’re a young project. Some of those dangers are the struggle that you will have to really establish your brand authority as you bounce around and dilute your presence.
You want to be seen as a trusted expert. And that takes time, and that takes persistence. You can’t be a one-hit wonder. You need to consistently demonstrate your expertise over time to the same audience. People need to see you and your content repeatedly before they will ever begin to recognize you, and/or your brand.
Another danger: you may confuse your audience and customers if you’re experimenting in too many places. And confusion is death. There is no place for confusion in your business model, unless you are a scam artist. Don’t try to operate a model where you’re asking a lot of things of your audience. Like check on my blog, download my book, follow me on YouTube, enroll in my course, attend my seminar, et cetera.You ask for one thing. You might get it. You ask for many things. You’ll more than likely get nothing. That’s something to be careful about.
Another danger: You can end up confusing even yourself, if you’re investing in a variety of channels and mediums. You may have a very hard time. I know this from experience. Pinpointing the actual impact of each channel on your business. And one more … nope, two more. Your quality will suffer. There is no way around it. You just can’t make outstanding content if you’re only working on it on the side, part time.
Your audience is begging for great content. They can easily get mediocre content from a hundred other sources. They don’t need it from you. The internet doesn’t need any more fluff. I like to imagine that there’s some new energized competitor entering the market, and evaluating me. They have a lot of talent and a lot of time and they’re looking at what I’m producing and thinking to themself either, “This is nothing. I can beat them.” Or, they’re thinking, “This is really good. I think I’m going to try something different.” Looking at it through that lens is sometimes helpful for me for perspective.
Lastly, you could just end up wasting precious time. It’s easy for us to end up focusing on the wrong thing, like we get caught up in the whole redesigning of your website, which is not going to move the needle most of the time. It really won’t.
Changing your pricing model. It could catapult you to success, but it probably won’t. At best, it may just result in a few more conversions.
Way more often, the problem is that your marketing sucks. And there’s just not enough people encountering your offering in the first place. Or, they’re the wrong people, because your marketing is not appropriate to what you’re offering. Or maybe even the offering itself is not very compelling.
The problem is, these more common issues are much more work and ongoing effort. You have to constantly be appropriately marketing what you do, and increasing the inflow of users to your funnel. There’s not some switch to flip; you just need to find the right one to shortcut yourself to success. Like, “If I just changed the right pricing model,” or “If I just tweaked the design of my site enough, I’ll be good.” Doesn’t work that way, unfortunately.
Bob: Yeah, but wasting time makes me think of an example. In a way I could use myself in it, to some level is, that whole point of what you’re figuring out what do at the very beginning. Your model and everything. I drive people to my site. That’s what I’ve done for 10 years. And all my content models have been to drive people to my site.
If after several years, it seems like as you mentioned, a danger might be, “Okay, everybody’s talking about YouTube, and how great YouTube is.” So you start putting all this energy into YouTube, where you’ve already built this audience on your site.
Bob: You’re not starting something new; you’re just trying to, you’re thinking you’re broadening your audience. But you’re diluting your time because now it’s, “Okay, I’ve got to keep this flow going on my site. But then I’ve got to put these energies into YouTube.”
Is that a fair comparison, or a fair example? Because it just seems like that can happen to a lot of people. And I’ve heard people struggle who say, “I didn’t start on YouTube, and I just can’t get the audience over there.” Well, maybe there’s a reason because your audience is on your site or somewhere else right now.
Kyle: Yeah, I think that’s absolutely true. There’s no doubt it is dangerous. Because it takes so much to build that audience and build their trust. If you change what you do, you take a bit of a step backwards. Because you’re going to be presenting yourself to new people, if you’re presenting on a new channel. They’ll be encountering you for the first time. And you’re starting from square one with most of them.
The truth is, I don’t really have any scientific metrics on this, but people need to see you and your brand repeatedly, numerous times, before they’ll ever actually remember it, and associate you with the value that your message is bringing. So they won’t ever think that Kyle gives good advice until they’ve heard me on several podcasts. Or until they’ve read several of my articles or seen several of my videos, at least. Just one is not going to make anybody remember who I am. It takes persistence.
When you start stepping into other channels, you endanger yourself of never being able to really establish that role that you want to play as an expert in your space.
Bob: Now I want to swing back to, you’ve already talked about Restrict Content Pro a little bit. I know it personally. I probably know it more than some people. There are probably people listening that maybe have heard of it, there’s some people saying, “What the heck has he been talking about?”
Just give us an overview of what this plugin does, because I know it’s in the family of plugins in Sandhill Development. It’s a very popular one. It’s a trusted one out there in the space. Give us a little bit more of what RCP does.
Kyle: Thanks, Bob. Restrict Content Pro is, and has been, one of my favorite plugins for a long time. I loved it even years before I started working for Sandhills. It’s not a new product at all. It’s actually one of our oldest products. But it has been continuously improved, and now has a great team of people behind it. And just wait until the 3.0 version comes out. It’s really nice. And it’s on the brink of release now.
I’ve always appreciated how easy it is to configure, and that it really sets you up for success from the start. There are a lot of ways to effectively sell content with eCommerce tools or membership plugins and membership platforms. There are just so many ways that you can monetize content. With Restrict Content Pro, I think it’s just very straightforward. Sets you up for the most standard, popular way to sell restricted content at a site. It has subscription management built into it. Comes with Stripe functionality built in, easy-to-use discount codes, and all the very standard basic stuff.
And then a suite of add-ons as well, that are pretty special for those cases where the site needs a little more. A few of my favorites are Group Accounts, allowing a user to manage multiple different users who operate effectively under the same membership account. That’s kind of slick, and that’s something easy to do in a WordPress context.
Site creation. You can operate a multi-site network where you sell web sites, where people can sign up, and it generates a site on a network for them, and they pay a subscription to use it. Or dripped content. Where you are scheduling out the content that people have access to when they sign up. Then there are time periods that must pass before users have access to the next module, or the next piece of content in your dripped flow.
Those are a few of my favorites. But anyway, a roundabout way of saying, I really appreciate how simple the plugin is, and how reliable it is, and I can vouch for the fact that it’s got some of the best developers I know backing it up.
Bob: Well, I can concur with that. We have used Restrict Content Pro ourselves, off and on over the years. I have written a post about it. Before we head off into the day, why don’t you tell people where they can find you, and learn all this other great stuff from Kyle.
Kyle: Thanks, Bob. I appreciate the opportunity. It’s been a lot of fun. You can find me on Twitter @MrKyleMaurer. That’s M-A-U-R-E-R. You can find the company that I work for and all of our great products at SandhillsDev.com.
The podcast that I’m on, I co-host with a friend, Adam Silver. It’s called Get Options. So if you search the iTunes directory, or wherever you listen to podcasts, for Get Options you’ll hear Adam and I talking about WordPress news and answering WordPress questions, often in a very sarcastic manner. Sometimes we will bust out some original comedic songs or raps or play games on the show, and word challenges. And occasionally even bring out some fun guests. It’s a little more of a lighthearted program. But we keep doing it because we have fun when we do it.
That should be it. Thanks a lot, Bob, for letting me come on the program. I really appreciate it.
Bob: Thank you for taking the time. Yeah, I was anxious to get you on here, and I’m sure I’m going to have you on again. Maybe next time we’ll talk about one of those other products you have in the reserves over there. Thanks again, Kyle.
Kyle: Thanks, Bob.